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5 Ways to Bounce Back from Disappointment at Work

5 Ways to Bounce Back from Disappointment at Work

Have you ever been blindsided by performance feedback? Have you ever put your all into a project and in doing so expected a really nice bonus yet received a fraction of what you expected? Have you ever done everything you thought you needed to do to get promoted and then got passed over for promotion? If you can relate to any of these experiences, I am sure you felt various emotions including anger, sadness and sometimes regret.

Above are examples of typical set backs you may experience at work. Unfortunately, when we were in college getting prepared for the workforce, no one told us to be on the lookout for these experience nor did they tell us how to deal with them. In my career, I have dealt with many different types of setbacks and had to figure out ways to get through it in order to continue to perform with enthusiasm and avoid letting these set backs stifle me from moving forward in my career.

If you've experienced set backs at work and are not sure how to handle them, below I share five ways to deal with disappointment at work.

[Related: How to Find (and Work With) Your Professional Blind Spots]

Vent to someone.

When you vent about the issue, it helps process your thoughts about the situation. It also helps you feel better after you do vent. Now let me be clear, complaining versus having a conversation to gain an understanding on what went wrong are two different things. When you vent, find someone that will let you vent, is a good listener and honest. The point of this is to just get it out. Having a dialogue with another person helps you uncover perspectives that you may not have uncovered if you stewed in your own thoughts. Also, it just feels plain good to let all your frustrations out. Being frustrated and upset is totally normal and getting it out is healthy as it avoids a build up of stress and resentment against your boss and your job.

Reflect on what happened.

Spend time reflecting on how you ended up disappointed. There have been times that I have received less than stellar performance reviews and in my mind, I thought I did well. The first couple of times it happened, I was angry and pretty much in denial of the person’s perception of the work I did. I eventually gained the maturity to reflect on what the perception of me was. I would replay how things went down on the project from my boss’s point of view, essentially stepping into her shoes.  Through this reflection time, I often discovered what I could have done better and also discovered improvements to make on similar projects in the future.

[Related: Four Critically Important Rules for Getting and Giving Feedback]

Manage your expectations.

It is not realistic to expect every situation is going to turn out according to plan. If you live by this ideology, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Now hear me out, I am not saying you should expect bad things to happen. However, it is good practice to keep the mindset of knowing you've put in your best effort. If things don’t go according to plan, you have peace of mind that you did your best. If the result you receive is less than favorable, use it as an opportunity to learn. I remember back in the days when I used to work in assurance services, I worked my tail off doing 10 to12 hour days 21 days in a row, because I wanted to get a nice bonus when it was all over. I remember when I received my bonus it most definitely was not commensurate to the work that I put in. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I cried. I cried because I felt like a fool. Here I was putting in all this effort, sacrificing time away from the people I love and it was all for nothing. That day I learned that if I am going to make sacrifices then I shouldn’t expect anything in return, and if I did receive something in return it would be a blessing. I learned a very valuable lesson that day and quite frankly the lesson was more valuable than any amount of money I could have received.

Talk about it with your boss.

When you have calmed down, set up a meeting with your boss to talk about the feedback you received. When you request the meeting indicate that you read the feedback and you want to sit-down and discuss what you can do better going forward. This will relieve any angst by you or your boss about having a difficult conversation. When you have the conversation, keep an open mind and try your best not to be defensive. This is important because you want to have a relationship with your boss that is not contentious and uncomfortable when it comes to giving you feedback to improve your performance. If you've received blindsided feedback, this would be the time to ask your boss to provide you feedback in the moment going forward. Also, you can explain how it felt to have received the feedback in such a manner. In the past when I have received unexpected performance feedback, I have scheduled a separate meeting with my boss to discuss ways to improve on future projects. These meetings have been especially helpful because I gained better context from my boss on the reasons why I was given that type of feedback.

[Related: How to Get the Feedback You Need]

Let it go.

You can choose to let it go and move on. The reality is that life is filled with peaks and valleys and we don’t know when we will experience the good times versus the bad times. Disappointments and setbacks are part of life and it really isn’t personal. It is important to get to acceptance fairly quickly because having negative thoughts about your experience will consume you. For me, it took many years of practice to just let things go. I would replay the negative thoughts over and over in my head often questioning each action I took. It was unhealthy and never solved anything. I learned falling into the negative thought spiral made it more challenging to move on from the situation. Now when I experience set backs, I know I have a choice to either take it personal or accept the experience, learn from it and move on.

Disappointments at work are inevitable. The best way to deal with them is to know they will happen and to have a plan in place to get through the disappointments when it occurs. If you are experiencing a pattern of disappointments, it might be time to take your talents elsewhere, but if the situations are isolated, spend time taking stock of why you took the position and determine if your current company is still the right place for you to attain your goals.

Do you have some tried and true ways to deal with setbacks in the workplace?


Christmas Hutchinson is an experienced management consultant who has a passion for writing about career ownership to help young professionals take control of their career. Her advice has been featured by the Ellevate Network and the Huffington Post. Find more advice on how to own your career on Twitter @simpliChristmas.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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Kristi Stewart

You shared some really hard truths here! Managing expectations can be difficult but letting it go is so much harder; both are absolutely necessary. I had to have a conversation with my boss(es) that helped me gain perspective of their expectations. As you mentioned, the extra time/effort just wasn't as valuable to them.

September 22, 2018

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